I don’t read much “contemporary fiction.” Generally speaking, I find the amount of ironic distance between author and character not very interesting—I can watch a movie and pretty much get the same experience, along with some other interesting sensory information like cinematography and soundtrack. Perhaps the reason behind our contemporary obsession with the cinematization of novels is that many contemporary novels are just films on paper, and many of them not very interesting films—some invented white guy’s invented mid-life crisis. I’d rather watch a film. So in prose, I want something different, something like horror or science fiction where the artifice is implicit, or something that bridges the gap between author and reader in a way that only language can.
I once heard someone express disdain for the works of Marcel Proust by saying, “I don’t want to know that much about anyone I’m not sleeping with.” Contrarily, for me, this statement embodies everything I love about Proust. If one thinks of a piece of writing with a scale like a map to measure ironic distance between author, reader and subject—e.g. 1:200 being a great deal of ironic distance from the subject (say, a garden variety “thriller” novel) and 1:1 being no distance at all, a complete unity of author, subject and audience, I prefer work that falls on the extreme low-end of the scale. This 1:1 correspondence has nothing to do with the work being in first, second or third person: I, you or she can bridge the distance equally well. It has to do, I think, with the attentions and intentions of the author.
Very few works of contemporary prose fulfill these criteria for me, but Dana Ward’s Typing Wild Speech, published this year by Summer BF Press fulfills them in a way that I don’t encounter much outside of Proust or W.G. Sebald. To say “Dana Ward is our Proust,” though, is meaningless, since he is actually our Dana Ward. Notwithstanding that in addition to its affinities with Proust, the work also concerns another shibboleth of mine, Ian Curtis.
I say shibboleth, because the figure of Curtis and an interest in same seems to be an immediate conduit to a certain kind of sensibility. By interest, I mean more than a mere cursory appreciation, like someone would have because they really like, say, Interpol, but rather a far-reaching interest that stretches back to adolescence, before Joy Division’s brand of post-punk was the mode and Nirvana fans called you a pansy when Kurt Cobain was still alive. That kind of interest, which seems to be somewhat common amongst poets—perhaps because poetry seemed to be Curtis’s main M.O., and not pop music. Sometimes, upon consideration, I think that had Curtis been a poet he could have survived. He was interested in a kind of pure cathartic despair, 1:1, that only the poetic can safely approach—something that burns pop music quickly down to the bones of its wings.
Ward’s book concerns more than Ian Curtis, though, the photo on the cover is actually one of the actor Sam Reily as Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s film “Control.” This is significant because the book concerns resemblances, that of Curtis, by way of Reily, to a friend of Ward’s, Geoff, who, like Curtis, but not Reily, committed suicide. This Curtis-as-synecdoche is something that I think connects many of those who are intimately interested in Joy Division and Curtis. It is probably the thing (apart from a general enjoyment of Ward’s work) that drew me to the text in the first place, the photograph of Reily with a cigarette “scissored between. . . his fingers [covering] his lips the way Geoff would preparing for a moment of candor.” The text, though, is much more than a gloss on Curtis.
The book’s titular reference is to Ward’s typing of the handwritten poem “Wild Speech” from the book The Thorn by the poet David Larsen, which Ward reprints in full at the beginning of this book. I found this to be a stunningly beautiful way to begin a work, betraying the usual constraints of authorship, devoting a portion of one’s “own” book to someone else’s work, as well as serving as a testament to the love of the words of others, which is the staff from which so much good writing, 1:1 writing, seems to arise. Additionally, this poem binds together some of the various tributaries of Ward’s life that he addresses in the book. Ward does the same with a Michael Kelleher poem to a similar effect later on in the book. We see exactly what ward sees, 1:1, word by word by word.
What separates Typing Wild Speech from a merely detailed memoir, apart from an overall lack of concern with narrativity—nobody’s “telling a story” here—is the intensely physical way whereby Ward bridges the vast space existing between himself and the reader. We literally see through Ward’s eyes”
With the lights I do this blinking thing next, making the candy-colors strobe in the dark, then try shutting my eyes for a thirty second count & throwing them open on the firefly tails of a strand of white bulbs across the street.Regarding this, I cannot express any better than Ward himself:
It should only take a moment to see that this binary once it assumes a mechanistic character will announce wings & take flight above me as law, find purchase in my social life as some received idea, & will finally haunt my thoughts forever.And our thoughts are marked, indelibly, by the print of Ward’s consciousness. His filling of us in this way is something both anathemic and anthemic of death—author, actor, ghost, lover, friend, reader are bound up in a kind of intercourse that touches each in due course, the constraints of sidereality being only a philosophical, psychological construct as easily dispatched as the binaries referenced above.
Ward repeatedly refers to Typing Wild Speech, accurately, as a poem—which is likely to be disconcerting to some who are not used to seeing blocks of justified prose as such—but is illustrative, I think, of that which defines “what is poetic,” as being anything that shores up the distance in the ironic scale; a concept which excludes much of contemporary writing, either in the form of prose blocks or enjambed lines. To say “much of contemporary writing is not poetic” is not a judgment a priori, but I am with Ward when he says:
Some writers claim an important distinction. They are not ‘a poet’ but ‘a person who writes poetry,’ & in making this distinction they dissolve an alienating modality that abets false consciousness. Others, I & I would include myself here, make a deep claim on the mantle & with varying critiques & complicating models refit that space & thus their life.
Like Gerrit Lansing, another poet, says, “Guys who aren’t with eggs I’m not with them.”
I recommend getting with Ward, Proust, Curtis, Corbijn, Larsen, Goins, Young, and others in this book. http://summerbfpress.blogspot.com/